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Priced Out

Rising prices have become an inevitability when it comes to fine wine
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Nov 25, 2013 10:10am ET

One of the hard truths about wine is that eventually you'll get priced out. That is, the wines you gravitate to and find so comfortably affordable will cost more.

These are often your special go-to wines, the wines you "discovered," and didn't want anyone else to find out about. Barring your own dramatic shifts in good fortune, they will eventually extend beyond your financial reach. The main reason is that quality wines will almost always reach a broader audience, which inevitably leads to higher prices.

The first time I heard this complaint, oddly, it came from a vintner. One day at lunch he muttered that he couldn't afford to drink his own wine at a restaurant, where his wine was double retail. It seemed an absurd exaggeration, he being Joe Heitz, one of Napa's most prominent vintners. But given the markup, and the fact that many vintners then didn't like to spend much for wine, he probably wasn't joking.

That he had brought his own wine to the restaurant was appropriate while discussing his winery during an interview (vintners in wine country usually get a break on corkage). Robert Mondavi never complained about buying his wine or others' off a list (he was more spendthrift than skinflint). But plenty of others did. They didn't like markups anymore than the rest of us do.

Some consumers are annoyed when their favorite "secret" wine receives an endorsement, making their favorite wine harder to find and often more expensive (earning a spot on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list, for instance—just take a look at the commenters in the WineSpectator.com Forums on the Wine of the Year thread). But information ricochets through cyberspace so fast that it's become nigh impossible to keep any wine clandestine.

And wine lovers will always adapt. Luckily, we have so many options that if we can't find one wine that suits our tastes, the next one is waiting to be discovered.

Jay J Cooke
Ripon CA —  November 25, 2013 11:23am ET

Many years ago I stood in line at Heitz winery waiting for the release of the 1974 "Marthas Vineyard" cab. If memory serves correct it was $50. Joe Heitz came out to visit with us while waiting & said he would never pay $50 for a bottle of wine. I don't belive he was kidding either. Great wine though.
Jay J Cooke
Ripon CA —  November 25, 2013 11:37am ET
My memory is going. The Heitz 74 Martha's was $25 not $50,
Paul P Ritter
San Jose, CA —  November 25, 2013 2:11pm ET
It was that way with Charlie Wagner at Caymus back in the 70's... the special select was around $30 or so... I was on the mail list with 3*s after my name... I soon fell off that list!
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco —  November 25, 2013 2:26pm ET
When I asked him how he prices his wine Joe Heitz once told me, "I keep raising the price until they say ouch." He wasn't shy about pushing the envelope for us. We reap what we sow.
Dave Devine
Cologne, Germany —  November 26, 2013 1:45am ET
Priced out or sold out! My girlfriend and I have long been fans of St. Urbans-Hof. The Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett has been a favorite since we first got together. So when the October 30th issue of Insider gave the Ockfener Bockstein Spätlese 96 points and its appearance coincided with a visit from a wine-loving friend from Pittsburgh, we made a tasting appointment and drove down to the winery in Leiwen on October 26, hoping to pick up a case. First thing we saw when they presented us the list was that the Spätlese was sold out. We made the best of a "bad" situation, though, and enjoyed a delightful tasting of about 10 different wines. We also stocked our cellar for 2014 with not just the Bockstein Kabinett, but 4 other bottlings that were new to us.
Alan Gavalya
Hampton VA USA —  November 26, 2013 9:02am ET
I have only been serious about expanding my wine horizon for about five years so my perspective may be naive. The price brought by some bottles makes me smile when I consider what must be driving the cost. I would love to taste what all the fuss is about but have been able to restrain my curiosity thus far. Fortunately, I agree with you James that the market offers superb new options every year and isn't the real fun in the discovery?
Joe Dekeyser
Waukesha, WI USA —  November 26, 2013 9:05am ET
So true, I started buying wine from a terrific central Ca producer several years ago after having been on their waiting list for about 4 years. The wine had everything - grown, produced, bottled by, great terroir, great story and a real person behind it all. This was obviously a known quantity and I was already late to the game on it. It was at the top of my buying price point but I was willing to suck it up because it is great wine. The '06 received the highest of accolades and the '07 was released at $30 a bottle more than the amazing '06. I had to exercise my own discipline and step away from a favored label, so it goes.
Everett Cowan
Brentwood, TN —  November 26, 2013 2:31pm ET
My love affair with Napa Cabernet Sauvignon began with the 2000 vintage of Plumpjack. It has remained one of my favorites. The 2000 was $54 and the current vintage is $98. I still buy a few bottles to keep the vertical going but I worry that soon I will be totally priced out of the market.
Robert Hight
CA —  November 26, 2013 7:22pm ET
I begrudgingly dropped one of my Napa wine clubs when I received a shipment of four bottles of estate cab. Each bottle was priced higher than my first house payment. That was my line in the sand.
Jason Carey
Oakland, CA, USA —  November 27, 2013 12:49pm ET
The great American greed machine keeps pumping .
James Dunn
Fresno, CA, USA —  November 27, 2013 2:32pm ET
I know exactly what you mean. I was on the Shafer Hillside Select List for years, but once they crossed the $200 per bottle mark I had to say good-by. It was like losing a long time friend.
Larry-nancy Golden
Tampa, FL, USA —  November 28, 2013 6:43am ET
Interesting phenomenon and a unique quality of many (not all) entrepreneurial winemakers who worked hard and made the sacrifices needed to build their wine brand from scratch.

In the formative stage they price their juice to sell, often at a loss surviving by working for others then once the brand is built charging market rates to reap some reward for their hard work. Often leaving us who discovered and promoted them behind.

Disappointing…yes, understandable…yes as well. We're getting to the point where some hard economic choices are coming.

Fortunately our 2 favorites that we've been with since their beginning have more or less held the line. Buoncristiani in fact rolled out a very thoughtful and well-conceived wine club that recognizes us "pioneers". Guess that's why they will always be our go-to for a special wine. And their scores keep going up as well.
Tom Crist
Neenah, Wi. USA —  November 28, 2013 11:08am ET
If Joe Heitz can sell all the wine he makes at $100 per bottle he should do so. He and other vintners though should not be surprised when their loyal followers no longer follow. There are hundreds if not thousands if very good wines out there that consumers are finding just as pleasurable for a lot less money. There is no longer any reason to stick with one brand as they jack prices up until consumers say "ouch".
Brian Peters
Raleigh NC —  December 4, 2013 2:18pm ET
I have dropped off almost all of the mailing lists I was on because the prices no longer justify the product. I've kept a few - Rudius, Paloma, Keplinger - because I like the wines but the higher end Cabs are all off the list due to the cost.
Julius Strid
Winlock, WA —  December 4, 2013 2:37pm ET
You are right on point!

We tasted this past weekend at some of our favorite wineries in the Willamette Valley. The wine was great, but prices have become silly.
Douglas Wilhelm
Littleton, CO —  December 8, 2013 10:42pm ET
We have dropped off several of the higher-priced mailing lists (save a few that hold a special place in our hearts, e.g., Roar, Paloma, Chanticleer), replacing with a good local wine store that understands our tastes and specializes in moderate prices and bang for the buck. We haven't looked back in terms of enjoyment.
Shelley Gans
Townsend, Ma U.S. —  December 11, 2013 8:00am ET
The best fun for me is discovering an 88+ pt wine for less than $20. I peruse W.S's tasting lists each month, focusing on the price and noting wines that have been deemed worthy of an 88+ review. I then check a couple of online sources including the New Hampshire State Liquor store. Sometimes I strike "gold" and locate a bottle that is also on sale. I do have to search a lot of wines to find a couple but this is the fun part for me! I've seen many a 88 pt. wine priced above the $50 point and wonder if it really is better than the $12 find. As for the $1000+ Haut Brion - I leave that to the Bill Gates of the world.

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